Shinshu Mars Whisky
Shinshu Mars Japanese WhiskyThe distillery
Shinshu is a multipurpose site. It is owned by Hombo Spirits, who are most famous for their Japanese shochu and plum wines. They also sell wine and brandy, sometimes using the same "Mars" brand that they use on much of their whisky and some of these operations are carried out at the Shinshu site. I believe that there is beer being brewed at Shinshu, although I don't know the connection between that Minami Shinshu brewing company and Hombo Spirits.
The Shinshu plant was opened in 1985. Its main brand of single malt is called "Komagatake" ("pony mountain"). If that name rings a bell, "Kai-komagatake" is the name of the mountain which the Suntory distillery Hakushu draws its water from. However, their are loads of pony mountains across Japan, and the "Komagatake" referred to here is a different peak in the Kiso mountains. Prior to 1985, Hombo's whisky operations had been at Kagoshima on the Southern Island of Kyushu, where it had originally begun its whisky line in 1953. The company is still selling a "Satsuma" single malt from that distillery. Incidentally, Hombo have their own version of the Masataka Taketsuru creation myth stressing the role of Kiichiro Iwai (岩井喜一郎), who had a role in sending Masataka to Scotland and received his report when he returned. Iwai helped set up Hombo's whisky operation, which was originally based at the Kagoshima distillery which, although its single malts are still on the market, now produces only shochu.
There has been no whisky distilling at Shinshu since 1992 but Kawaida san at Hombo's head office confirmed to me in July 2010 that the company was refurbishing its still room and planned to start distillation again in 2011 . There are two stills (one of which, according to Katatomo-san, was unsafe in early 2010). The whisky is matured in sherry, brandy and bourbon casks. Mogi says there were about 500 casks in the warehouse in 2008.